While their economies may be undergoing turbulence in 2012, positive changes in France and Spain are also in the air — making this year a good time to touch down in these essential European destinations.
In Spain, several museums in Toledo have reopened after years of renovation. The new Spanish Army Museum, installed within the Alcazar fortress, displays endless rooms of military collections of armor, uniforms, cannons, guns, paintings, and models. The Santa Cruz Museum, finally completely open, displays a world-class collection of El Greco paintings, along with an eclectic mix of medieval and Renaissance art. The reopened and renamed El Greco Museum (no longer called El Greco’s House) offers its small collection of paintings — including the “View and Plan of Toledo,” El Greco’s panoramic map of the city.
In Madrid, the Madrid Card sightseeing pass now allows you to skip the lines at sights — which can save lots of time at the famous Prado art museum and the lavish Royal Palace. And in Barcelona, you can avoid the lines for the Picasso Museum by reserving an entrance time and buying your ticket online with no additional booking fee at www.museupicasso.bcn.cat.
Granada’s top sight, the magnificent Alhambra fortress, has opened an official bookstore in a handy city-center location (between Plaza Isabel La Catolica and Plaza Nueva). The bookstore’s info desk can help you print out your pre-reserved Alhambra tickets, and sells advance tickets (but not same-day tickets). With your ticket in hand, you can bypass the mob scene at the main entrance and enter the Alhambra through the Justice Gate (closer to the top attractions of that exquisite palace).
In Sevilla, the once nondescript square called Plaza de la Encarnacion (at the north end of downtown) has been boldly redeveloped: A gigantic undulating canopy of five waffle-patterned, mushroom-shaped, hundred-foot tall structures (called “Metropol Parasol” by its German architect) now provides shade for the formerly sunbaked square.
Even with these changes, the essence of France and Spain endures — a heady mix of modern and traditional that is ready to intoxicate curious travelers in 2012 and beyond.
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